Tourists look to companies like Airbnb for authentic Hawaii experience
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Millions of people visit Hawai'i each year and tourism officials say more and more of them want an authentic experience when they stay here.
"835,000 visitors came in July. They spent $1.4 billion. Show me another business that does that," said George Szigeti, President and CEO of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority.
Szigeti says for however long they're here, they want to live like locals. Companies like Airbnb and other alternative accommodations are making that possible -- but those new options have come with new challenges.
Technology has developed faster than policies -- leaving unanswered questions on everything from taxation and regulation to community impact in areas that previously weren't tourism draws.
8.6 million people have visited the islands in the past year -- and many are foregoing traditional tours for a more homegrown Hawai'i experience.
"They're going into uncharted we territories right now and creating new challenges for us -- we can't have visitors come here and just stay in Waikiki,
you know? They're looking for the authentic experience but how do we find the balance in that? That's a lot of the dialogue going on this week," said Szigeti referring to the 2016 Hawai'i Tourism Conference taking place at the Hawai'i Convention Center.
Tourism officials say they're trying to find a way to meet visitors needs without it coming at the expense of residents, Hawai'i's natural resources or the traditional lodging industry.
"I don't want to make it an us and them conversation, but I do think that a level playing field is appropriate," said Craig Anderson, GM and VP
of Operations at Mauna Kea Resort on Hawai'i Island.
Hawaii's growing vacation rental industry is largely unregulated. Recent legislation aimed at allowing alternative accommodation websites like Airbnb to collect taxes on behalf of their hosts failed when it was vetoed by Governor Ige. Airbnb officials say had it become law, it would have collected $15 million for the state in 2015 alone.
"Individuals are responsible right now for paying their own tax so just enabling us to do it legally would make it easier to make sure every cent is collected," said Cynthia Wang, the Regional Public Policy Director for Airbnb.
In addition to taxation and regulation, tourism officials say there are other concerns as well -- such as the impact of increased traffic and other activity in residential neighborhoods and non-traditional tourist areas
that are turning into visitor destinations.
Airbnb officials say their guests spend about $270 a day on average -- money that remains in the neighborhoods where they're staying, but admit there have been some growing pains as their presence in Hawai'i has grown
to about 10,000 listings.
"It is somewhat of a new activity and regulations haven't caught up with technology. What we've told local officials here in Hawai'i is that we're at
the table, we're ready to be part of the solution," said Wang.
Officials say this convention is an opportunity for all stakeholders to come together to work on resolutions the issues raised by Hawai'i's changing hospitality industry.
"I think we all want the same thing, which is to preserve the beauty and the integrity of Hawai'i for everyone -- for the people who live here and for
those who come to see it," Anderson said.
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